Bootleg Tracks

I went along to the big CBC “bootlegger forum” this evening at the Basilica Rec Centre. Taking a page from the Wesley Clark for President playbook, the forum was held in the smallest room possible, and therefor bristled with packed excitment.

To be honest, I have no opinion on the issue: I don’t live next to a bootlegger, and so I’m not in the “bothered” constituency; I don’t give a tinker’s damn about articles in the National Post making fun of Charlottetown, so I’m not in the “ashamed” camp; I’m not a customer, so I wasn’t one of the vocal majority at the meeting; and I’m not a big “the law is the law” believer, so I’m not in the Bruce Garrity-led “enforcement” camp.

But here’s what I do know, mostly as a result of tonight’s meeting: this is a class issue, and until it’s framed as such, the various protagonists will neither understand the positions of the other, nor be able to come to a solution that works for all.


Mandy's picture
Mandy on March 23, 2004 - 04:44 Permalink

But here’s what I do know, mostly as a result of tonight’s meeting: this is a class issue, and until it’s framed as such, the various protagonists will neither understand the positions of the other, nor be able to come to a solution that works for all.

very well said Peter.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on March 23, 2004 - 04:58 Permalink

My last name gives away my bias — and true to form, I’m with Bruce (though I prefer to call him “Dad”).

I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on the subject. However, I do wonder why we would bother having residential/mixed/commercial zoning laws, fire code, and liquor licenses if we don’t enforce them. That said, I suppose that could be seen as an argument for either side.

I’m also not sure what to do with your suggestion that this is a “class issue”.

Al's picture
Al on March 23, 2004 - 06:15 Permalink

From what I know and have heard from reliable sources about the goings-on at a number of so-called legitimate bars around Charlottetown it is kind of hypocritical to come down hard on bootleggers on the one hand and on the other let these bars go on as they are.

Robert  Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on March 23, 2004 - 11:49 Permalink

I used to live just up from Peaks Key? It is legal but the noise! What’s the difference legal or not living near a bar is hell

rsimpson's picture
rsimpson on March 23, 2004 - 12:33 Permalink

I was at the meeting as well and agree with PRuk for the most part; I would go further and say I struck by the all around feebleness of the arguement from City Hall. They the moral high ground to carry the discussion and they weren’t able to make any substantial case for their position. Furthermore the supporters of bootleggers understand that the numbers are on their side, each of those voices reperesents at least 1 vote and in many cases several votes, that equation won’t be lost on the politicians (it surprises me that it appears to be lost on the Brown cabal).
Some points that weren’t made last night(in no particular order): Bootleggers exist in dozens of Island communities and in most majors communities in Canada, this issue is not unique to Charlottetown and generally is not considered a problem elsewhere.
Law enforcement is about containment and doesn’t do very well at prevention, the L&O cases presented were undermined by the grudging acknowledgement that the bootleggers were run pretty well and were less trouble than legal bars.
This became a media issue as a result of the efforts of City Hall it did not spring onto the pages of The NatPost for any other reason than that City Council put it at the top of its agenda.
For myself, I’ve been to Gordie’s a few of times in the past decade, I would say that it is pretty well run, has a well behaved and loyal clientle and I felt safer there than I ever did the few times I’ve had to walk down Kent St. late on Friday or Saturday night.
There are many issues for the City Hall to deal with and I’m concerned when so much time and so many resources are spent on something that will not change, let alone improve, our community; (to quote) “…not a jot not a tittle…”.

rsimpson's picture
rsimpson on March 23, 2004 - 13:09 Permalink

My editing efforts were too enthusiastic I fear and the sentence should read “They… didn’t have enough of…the moral high ground…” so sorry.
I hate proof reading.

Marcus's picture
Marcus on March 23, 2004 - 13:28 Permalink

You’re right it’s class-based — I don’t see any bootleggers in Brighton or Lewis Pt. Park, etc. As the neighbourhoods where the bootleggers are located continue to gentrify, this will become a bigger issue until the law is consistently enforced.

Bar locations in Charlottetown are horribly planned already but I guess most old communities have terrible planning. But we don’t need more drinking holes in residential areas, legal or illegal. Don’t forget the safety issues (a guy I went to school with died a year or 2 ago at a BL), and their lack of scrutiny to provincial health/safety inspections, flagrantly ignoring fire codes, etc. I don’t believe for a minute that this is a “quaint tradition” like Ed MacDonald or Jack McAndrew call it.

City Hall has been on the receiving end of complaints about bootleggers for years so people shouldn’t attack Bruce & other councillors for being the messengers. There are genuine concerns of property-owners/renters near these “establishments” and if they speak with a unified voice, then their government is obliged to listen and begin enforcing existing laws. Jim McNeil always used to point out that it’s foolish to think that new laws will eliminate bootlegging, just good police work using existing laws.

Also, I could care less about national media poking fun at us over this issue — it is our problem to solve — but sometimes a bit of national exposure is a good thing. Island media are too timid to confront the meat of the story in issues like bootlegging, Meteor Creek, political patronage/nepotism, etc.

/enough rambling :-)

Chris's picture
Chris on March 23, 2004 - 15:17 Permalink

I have lived next to a bootlegger.

My roommate and I nicknamed them “The Parkies” because of the similarities between their conversations with those heard on the sitcom,

Rusty's picture
Rusty on March 23, 2004 - 15:36 Permalink

Its part of a pattern of Island society’s deceitful tendencies led largely by Island politicians short-term ambitions. Sure, we have laws against bootlegging, wink, wink. Besides, its just the people in the “lower east end” of Charlottetown(as it was referred to on radio the other day) that go to them. And God knows, wink, wink, they’d be getting drunk somehow anyway. You can’t really control them, so let them have their neighbourhood establishments and we can carry on telling the little old ladies in the temperance union that bootlegging is illegal.

By having laws but not enforcing them, politicians are able to play to both the pro and con constituencies and, through either silver tongue or threats, get votes from both. Its the same with the patronage issue. Most politicians will publically stand against the practice, yet Islanders continue to call their representatives if they are out of work. I wonder why?

The real way to get rid of bootleggers is to allow liquor sales at corner stores, loosen liquor-serving regulations for legal operations, have better urban planning, and take politicians’ discretion out of regulatory decisions.

Its interesting to note that both Richard Collins and Bruce Garrity are “from away” and may not understand the nuances of the old wink wink game so tacitly familiar to Island politicians and those that feel their influence.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on March 23, 2004 - 15:46 Permalink

I don’t know about Collins, but Bruce Garrity has lived on PEI for about 30 years.

Marcus's picture
Marcus on March 23, 2004 - 17:28 Permalink

I agree with you Rusty. It seems that the intimacy of Island society twists politicians’ abilities to stand up for their beliefs… then the ‘wink wink’ mentality you mention starts to creep in.

But I don’t think being CFA is the issue — instead it’s how hard you try to avoid getting sucked into the little bubble of issues that Island politics has always been (or has become?).

Drug dealers & crack houses are the modern-day version of the bootlegger and it’s just too bad that police don’t take advantage of the nature of Island society, where as you note, everyone knows what’s going on, and where it’s taking place, so why not do something about it?

Derek Martin's picture
Derek Martin on March 23, 2004 - 18:07 Permalink

I think it’s reasonable at least to expect bylaw enforcement and not have businesses where they’re not allowed. The city consults the neighbourhood for permission for everything from acupuncture clinics to B&Bs (depending on zoning). Why should anyone get a pass? Robert’s point is a good one — bar or bootlegger, few would choose either for a neighbour. Maybe if the laws about not serving intoxicated people or public drunkeness were enforced then it wouldn’t matter where people drank, but that is not going to happen.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 23, 2004 - 18:25 Permalink

What’s interesting to me about the “law is the law” argument is that we’re not at all certain what to do when a substantial group of people act like that doesn’t matter. Bruce Garrity says it leads to anarchy. I’m not so sure. It does remind us, however, that the law, like many other things, is an artificial construct we choose to live by (or not).

Mandy's picture
Mandy on March 23, 2004 - 19:04 Permalink

I would have to agree it’s a class issue too. And I don’t mean to be rude or offensive in anyway. Heck, members of my own family were known to go to bootleggers in the past for the same reasons argued —  friendly faces, kind people who care about you, great social atmosphere etc .

By class issue, I would say that many of the bootleggers are located in the areas of town deemed “low income”. There may be no real reason for this, but it seems to be true. However, these are the ones that have been running for years and everyone knows about then. Who’s to say there aren’t bootleggers running out in Bell Heights and so forth. I think this is what is meant by class issue (or to me anyway), as stereotypical as that may sound from the view point of many.

I think one thing that needs to be looked at is the over all effects of bootlegging and legal bars both on our Island. If I remember correctly, I read that our province has a high amount of addictions rates. Could our high amount of bootleggers be a cause? Maybe, maybe not.

When I was watching Kim Devine on Point Of View quite a few callers that were supporting the bootlegging community argued that “they grew up in one, their families grew up in one and there is nothing wrong with that.” Could there not be a deeper issue then just the illegal sales? Should we be worried about our community’s view on liquor in general? Basically, are too many people becoming desensitized to it’s long lasting effects?

Rusty's picture
Rusty on March 23, 2004 - 19:11 Permalink

The “the law is the law” argument is resorted to only when the reasons behind a law cannot be explained or justified. In a free and democratic society, we should have a higher standard of evaluation. If a law is good, it should be able to be justified as a necessary measure for the protection or general good of a society; if a law cannot be so justified, repeal it.

rsimpson's picture
rsimpson on March 23, 2004 - 21:39 Permalink

The notion that laws should be enforced is hard to argue with unless its you getting the ticket for dodging the traffic on Kent St., or for parking your car after Nov. 15 or for any of the other laws that are routinely violated by large numbers of otherwise law abiding citizens. The simple fact that a law exist cannot be used as a compelling reason for its enforcement.
This issue has a little to do with all the points made on this page and with all the points made last night; its that they just don’t add up to a clear expression of the will of the people.
As for “class” ;I agree it may be a Weberian issue of class but I’m not sure its a Marxian class issue.

Alan's picture
Alan on March 23, 2004 - 21:41 Permalink

But this law is not hard to enforce or make enforceable. All it takes it a few months of constant arrests, fines, charges for breaches. It is a political question only and one has to wonder why there is this demand. Charlottetown has relatively few bars compared to Halifax or St. John’s. Are too few being licensed?

Jason's picture
Jason on March 23, 2004 - 21:58 Permalink

I’ve written about this at CityFilter, but I’ll put my 2 cents in here as well.

Close them.

The fact that there’s a debate on this boggles the mind. They’re illegal, they’re in residential areas, they create noise, they don’t progress the lifestyle of this city.

And to say this is a class issue is false. At CityFilter I mentioned I lived in front of one of these bootleggers….at the time I was in college and by no means in a certain income bracket. Now-a-days I’m in not much of a better position and my opinion still stands.

Essentially, they are house parties running every night disturbing the peace. Any other house party creating a disturbance would have the cops called on them.

simply close them

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 23, 2004 - 22:28 Permalink

Class is not about money. At least not entirely.

Jason's picture
Jason on March 23, 2004 - 22:35 Permalink

True Peter, but I don’t frequent the 42 street lounge regularly either. I grew up in the country…infact a bootlegger existed next to our house. In my case, higher upbringing isn’t an issue in my opinion

Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on March 23, 2004 - 23:23 Permalink

This reminds me of the issue of camping in front of City Hall in San Francisco. There was a prima facie reasonable law against it, and yet the campers were homeless and San Francisco didn’t have enough shelters for them (and not because SF provided fewer homeless services than other cities of its size, but paradoxically in part it seems because it provided more, and so attracted homeless from all over). Even if every law that a society has enacted is reasonable, that doesn’t mean that perfect compliance will create a happy and stable society. Perfect compliance might not even be the way to produce the most happiness and stability that that set of rules can produce. It may be that the optimum comes when you allow a little slop and/or occasionally go with the flow.

Derek Martin's picture
Derek Martin on March 23, 2004 - 23:28 Permalink

How many bootleggers are estimated to be in Charlottetown?

Marcus's picture
Marcus on March 24, 2004 - 01:45 Permalink

I used to live across the hall from a guy in an apartment building in Halifax who sold pot by the shopping bag-full. I don’t care what people do on their own time, but if someone’s trafficking near my residence, I’m going to put up a hell of a fuss. The police and my councillor probably logged more than 50 complaints from me before they sent in a SWAT team and shut down the operation. Police often have better things to do (like catch robbers and murderers) than worry about these things.

The run-down, chopped-up, Victorian houses of the east end and the area between Queen/University from Euston up to the old Royalty Mall have more than their share of substandard accomodations and low rent apartments. As I’ve never frequented a bootlegger, I have no idea whether the proprietor of one of these places “owns” or “rents”…

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that citizens owning property would not stand for a bootlegger (or anything else for that matter) which would devalue their investment. Island moonshine and beer 24/7 first… what’s next? Crack cocaine & 8 foot fences with pit bulls behind them?

Charlie's picture
Charlie on March 24, 2004 - 07:48 Permalink

Here’s something I’ve been wondering about, and maybe Alan or someone else could shed some light on this for me…you know how in some legal cases property is seized for being a product of illegal activity (my words)? For instance, here in Halifax a year or so ago a shipyard worker was arrested as the leader of a drug shipment group and they seized a number of cars, a boat, and I believe his home.

Now, if they can do that, can’t they seize the homes the BL operations are running out of? At least for a few days or something? I know the one statement I always hear, no matter what side of the arguement the person is on, is “Well, they were back up and running that afternoon”. Based on the fine they probably can’t do this for the first offence, but for constant repeat offenders wouldn’t this be a stronger deterent?

rsimpson's picture
rsimpson on March 24, 2004 - 12:22 Permalink

Derek, the best estimate from 1 prominent Bootlegging family is 10 or there abouts.
The “property values” argument hilites one of my most abiding concerns about this whole imbroglio and that is simply this: Poverty, drinking, drug use and other illegal activities are not caused by bootlegging and will not go away as a result of closing the bootleggers we now have. The poor will still need housing and will continue to cluster in areas that provide housing they can afford.
In fact I don’t think bootlegging will disappear it will simply go elsewhere, further underground and harder to contain.

Alan's picture
Alan on March 24, 2004 - 13:29 Permalink

I had a look at that a few weeks ago for hobby interest, Charlie, and the provisions of the provincial liquor law do not transfer to the federal criminal proceeds provisions so the houses can’t be seized. However, do not buy any argument that the PEI Liquor Control Act is gutless as you face 6 months in jail for a second offence for running a gin-joint. I think you add section 33 of the act to 51(1)(b) to have that outcome.

Rob L.'s picture
Rob L. on March 24, 2004 - 16:41 Permalink

Lots of good points made here. It’s difficult to arrive at any absolute position on this but I’ll make an observation.
There’s a commercial property for sale not half a block from the most famous of the bootleggers. It would make an excellent location for a neighbourhood “local” (to use the Coronation Street analogy that I’ve heard proponents use). Wouldn’t it be simple for the bootleggers to go legit? Maybe not. Maybe there’s something inherent in the liquor laws and tax codes that makes the bootlegger model inviable. Can we create dual policy liquor laws — one for neighbourhood pubs with small maximum capacity restrictions but otherwise relaxed regulations; and another for the rest? I think the bootleggers need incentives. We need to make honest business people out of them. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing I couldn’t compete if I tried to open a bar to cater to the bootlegger clientele right now.
There are a lot of old corner stores in the downtown, put out of business by the large grocery chains. They’d make excellent little pubs.

Mandy's picture
Mandy on March 24, 2004 - 21:39 Permalink

Could it be a lot of this bootlegger issue is being brought up to direct attention away from over issues? My great aunt, who is 87 years young, lives in a seniors apartment building. She is upset as the main concerns for the building are a city transport bus, city grocery store and other things that would better the lives of the communities elderly. But when these concerns are brought to the attention of those in charge, the seniors are bombarded with promised to rid the town of it’s bootleggers. She said they are feeling ignored.

Most of the ladies and gents in her building don’t care. They grew up in the times of rum runners and other hard issues. She says she just wants her transport. Maybe the seniors’ community can open their own bootlegging operation and raise the money for their new bus.

Riki's picture
Riki on February 19, 2005 - 07:03 Permalink

I know this is almost a year later than that last post, but I just kind of stumbled across it… I am a proud patron of the bootleg establishments, or, I was.. I was at the meeting at the Bacilica, proudly wearing my “Support your Local Bootlegger” T shirt… I went to school with Steve Garrity, as did a number of other patrons.. I am disabled, and until recently, was on welfare… I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke, but I went to the bootleggers because I felt safer in these establishments than I did going to the legal bars… I knew the owner, I knew the bartenders, I knew most of the patrons… going to this bootlegger was the only outing I got during the week.. Everybody knew of my problems, and I got help from someone if I needed it… you won’t get that at Myrom’s.. you’ll get run over first… there were no drugs permitted, and if you were caught with any, you were barred for life… I know people who were caught with drugs at Myron’s and were barred for 6 months.. big deal… they weren’t open all day and all night either.. they opened between 7am and 9am, and closed promptly at 10pm.. don’t matter anymore, though.. the bootleggers are closed now, most closed after having huge Christmas bashes…. the ‘go out with a bang’ party… I know of 2 owners right now that are thinking of getting licences and opening up legal establishments in town.. I say good luck to them.. and I know I”ll be sitting in those bars quicker than I will any of the others in town…